Researching the Past to Understand America's Literary Heritage
Often in American literature, characters are influenced by the religious and social customs of the period in which they live. Other times, a particular or religious period can impact the creation of characters in works of literary merit generations in the future. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), a writer of the American Romantic author, found the Puritan period a fascinating source of inspiration for several of his works, including The Scarlet Letter, "Young Goodman Brown," and "The Minister's Black Veil." Almost a century later, Arthur Miller (1915-2005), a more contemporary American playwright, would set his famous work of social criticism entitled "The Crucible" in the dramatic time period of the Puritan era.
By researching various aspects of Puritan life during the seventeenth century in America, you can develop insight into the behavior of particular literary characters in Hawthorne's and Miller's work. You will, I hope, also see the parallels to modern day life that makes these works of literature so timeless.
In preparation for reading Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," select Puritan poetry, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil, and Arthur Miller's The Crucible, you will be expected to research various events and aspects of Puritan life in the 1600s. You will also explore the authors' biographies and relate them to the literary themes to be studied.
You will use the Web to obtain information on the following topics:
- Daily Life in Salem in the 1600s
- Puritanism and Government
- Witch trials of 1692
- Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Biography of Arthur Miller
You will be assigned to a group that will plan a 7-minute presentation designed to teach your classmates about your particular topic of study. Your presentation may take the form of anything from role playing and costumes to panel discussions, Power Points, or any other effective method. There are, however, THREE requirements for ALL groups:
(1) Accurate and interesting presentation that answers your essential questions;
(2) Some sort of handout/notes sheet for each class member; AND
(3) FIVE questions that can be used to "quiz the class" on your presentation.
The Group Assignment
Group 1 - Daily Life in Salem
Answer the following questions about daily life in Puritan New England using the links below:
- Describe the clothing worn by men and women in Salem. What types of fabrics were used? How did their clothing support their religious views?
- Describe the types of homes that probably existed in Salem. Explain what a palisade is and why it was necessary.
- Describe the family life of Puritans. What were expected of parents? Children?
- Describe a typical Puritan meal. How did their food and eating habits reflect their religious views?
Group 2 - Puritanism and Government
Answer the following questions about the basics of Puritanism using the links below.
- What are the basic Puritan beliefs? List at least five.
- How would Puritans view those of other faiths?
- What are some good things the Puritans left behind as their legacy?
- When and why did Puritans come to the New World?
- List five social forces working against Puritanism in the 1600s.
- What is a "theocracy"? How would it affect the view of Salem residents toward witchcraft?
Group 3 - Witchcraft
Answer the following questions about witchcraft - in colonial New England and today - using the links below.
- What made one a witch, according to colonial / Puritan standards? In other words, what type of actions / behaviors would a colonial witch demonstrate?
- Explain the early legal consequences of witchcraft.
- Which type of person was most likely to be considered a witch?
- How did property ownership contribute to accusations of witchcraft?
- How did superstition and hysteria contribute to accusations of witchcraft?
- How were colonial witches tried and punished?
- In what forms does witchcraft exist today? How are modern day witches treated?
Group 4 - Salem Witch Trials of 1692
Answer the following questions about witchcraft - in colonial New England and today - using the links below
1. Who were these people and what happened to them in 1692?
(Giles Corey, Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor, Sarah Good)
2. What tragedy befell Ann Putnam to make her suspicious of Rebecca Nurse?
3. What personal goals did Thomas Putnam have in accusing others of witchcraft?
4. Look at the timeline. What behaviors started to appear among the villagers?
5. Who were Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Tituba?
6. Who was Bridget Bishop, and why is her name inportant in these trials? How did her station in society (tavern owner) influence her fate?
7. What happened in January of 1693?
Group 5 - Life and Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne Answer the following questions about Nathaniel Hawthorne using the links below.
Give some details about Hawthorne's early life and family.
How did his Puritan heritage influence him? (Hint: Who was his famous ancestor?)
What did Hawthorne feel about Nature?
What was his opinion of women writers? (See PAL link - scroll up to just below his picture.)
What are some common themes that appear in Hawthorne's works?
Group 6 - Arthur Miller and McCarthyism
Answer the following questions about Arthur Miller and McCarthyism using the links below.
Give some details about Miller's early life and family
What were his major achievements and awards? What are some common themes in his work?
- Who was Joseph McCarthy and what did he investigate? Why were Americans concerned about Communism during the 1950s?
- What was the House Un-American Activities Committee? How were those brought before this committee affected by their appearance there?
- What happened when the McCarthy hearings were televised and he began to accuse Army officers of being Communists?
- Define "witch-hunt." How could McCarthyism be seen as a witch-hunt?
Describe Miller's appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Describe the effects of the investigation on Miller's writing of The Crucible.